The former Pro Bowl receiver held his annual Pro Camps football and skills exhibition challenge Wednesday at Union City High School, not far from the stadium where he used to play. Cruz was released by the Giants this offseason and wasn’t exactly thrilled with how it all went down before signing with the Chicago Bears.
He admittedly has something to prove to those who think he’s washed up or lost a step.
“Every day,” Cruz said at the camp, which benefits the Victor Cruz Foundation and its efforts to help local youth. "Even after a Super Bowl or after an injury-riddled two years, I always feel like I have something to prove. I’ll always strap up my laces and helmet and have something to prove, because you do.
"You’re only as good as your last catch, your last game, your last year of production. That is what you’re marketed as. That is what they categorize you as, whatever your last showing is on the field.”
Cruz caught 39 passes for 586 yards and a touchdown in 2016 after missing almost two full seasons with injuries. The 30-year-old receiver says he’s feeling good after a full offseason of training, and he really started to get in a groove the last few weeks of the offseason program in Chicago.
He admitted it helps that he’s playing predominantly in the slot, the position where most of his damage came pre-injury. But the Giants drafted Sterling Shepard last year in the second round, and he had more snaps in the slot than any player in the NFL last year.
Cruz started on the outside, but his role was reduced as the season progressed. He has acknowledged feeling he was somewhat fazed out of the offense. It was taken by some as criticism of the organization.
It's almost as if Cruz still seems unsure about what went wrong and where.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what there plans are or what they think about upstairs,” Cruz said. “I just go and play the game and see where it takes me.”
It’s not something that Cruz feels needs to be fleshed out with his former coach Ben McAdoo or anyone in the front office either. He’s onto the next chapter in his professional life.
“No, I haven’t had any conversations with anyone,” Cruz said. “Everybody is underway with their programs and things they’re doing with their respective teams. Nobody has time to handle issues and for me to call and those things. We just turn the page and move on.”
Cruz has spent his offseason in Los Angeles, Italy, France and, of course, New Jersey. That is where he was born and raised. The Paterson native still considers New Jersey his home, and even though he now plays for the Bears, it’s why his football camp was just miles from MetLife Stadium.
There were almost 200 local children at this year's camp. He organized a 7-on-7 tournament that followed.
Even though the kids were asking why he didn’t stay with the Giants (his answer was that it wasn’t his choice), they soaked in the opportunity to work with a hometown hero. Cruz was happy to connect with the kids, some of whom he’s seen grown over the years.
“It’s a blessing just for people wanting to come here and to have something attached to the Victor Cruz name and the foundation to be able to grow,” Cruz said. “You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Especially when it’s at home. It's clear that New Jersey will always be that to the Super Bowl hero.